Odds are, most casual music fans who have picked up albums from acts such as the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band probably aren’t that familiar with Paul Hornsby’s name.
Fans might notice his name listed on an album’s liner notes, but probably don’t know how he has helped produce an album, doing everything from the engineering to performing as a studio musician.
“The term ‘producer’ is like a director in the movie business,” said Chuck Leavell, the famous keyboardist who came to Macon in 1969 because of Hornsby’s encouragement. “(A producer) works with the artist. He makes all kinds of suggestions, such as what songs to record to working with the engineers, even the sequencing of songs on an album.”
In some ways, Hornsby said, that relative anonymity has made his selection to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame even more special, since he’s being judged by other people in the industry.
“It’s a big deal to be noticed by your peers,” Hornsby said. “It’s more special to be noticed by people doing what you do instead of something that people vote on.”
Induction into the music hall is a special thing, since Alabama inducts its selections every two years and Hornsby’s induction class will be only the 13th inducted. When he’s inducted during a banquet March 25, he’ll be joined by the likes of The Blind Boys of Alabama, O’Jays lead singer Eddie Levert, songwriter/producer Buddy Buie, session musician Jerry Carrigan, the late musician Terry Thompson and singer and State Sen. Bobby Denton.
“Obviously, Paul has had a stellar career as a musician, as well as a producer and a studio owner with what he’s done over the last 30 years in the music industry,” said David Johnson, executive director of the Alabama hall. “Our blessing is that we’ve had so many great people — we’ve identified well over a thousand candidates over a period of the last hundred years. So it’s pretty exclusive.”
Hornsby was born and reared in Alabama, attending the University of Alabama. He was a member of the band Hour Glass, featuring Duane and Gregg Allman before the Allman Brothers Band was formed.
In 1969, Hornsby was working with Duane Allman as a session keyboardist in Muscle Shoals when Capricorn Records co-founder Phil Walden came to town to recruit Allman to create a new band for the label. Walden talked with several of the musicians there, including Hornsby, who wasn’t initially interested in joining the band.
“I was in Hour Glass the year before that, so I was ready to move on to something else,” Hornsby said. “He told me he was building this studio and wanted me to be the piano player for the staff band. We talked it over for a couple of months while Duane found some other players into what eventually became the Allman Brothers Band. He moved to (Macon) around the same time I did.”
Hornsby was part of a four-piece session band that backed up the other Capricorn acts, but as Walden began to sign more bands, there was less of a need for the house band, Hornsby said.
So Hornsby got into the producing end of things. It just so happened the third album he produced was the debut album for the Marshall Tucker Band.
“I lucked into getting a hit so early on,” he said. “I learned how to engineer. I did all the keyboard stuff on the album. Marshall Tucker was a great live band that never missed having a keyboard player, but when you are making (studio) records, sometimes you need a little more. I wasn’t an out-front player; I just filled in the cracks.”
While with Capricorn, Hornsby worked with the likes of Wet Willie, Bonnie Bramlett and Gregg Allman on his solo albums. He also persuaded Leavell, a teenager who was making a name for himself in Alabama, to come to Macon, where he would eventually join the Allman Brothers Band after Duane Allman’s death.
“First of all, Paul has always been a mentor to me,” said Leavell, who has also recorded with the likes of the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. “He always has been. We first got together in Tuscaloosa, where he was teaching guitar at the Tuscaloosa Music Center. He was just so encouraging. He started to get me to sing. He showed me some things on the piano and the organ. ... When Capricorn started to gain success, Paul was a producer there, and he’s why I came.”
Hornsby left Capricorn in 1974 but continued to work with the studio as an independent contractor. He produced the first platinum album for the Charlie Daniels Band, “Fire On The Mountain,” which he said is the favorite album he has worked on along with Marshall Tucker’s double album, “Where We All Belong.”
He opened his own studio, Muscadine Studio on Vineville Ave., in 1982. Lately, he’s worked with Chris Hicks and E.G. Kight on their albums, as well as recording session work for artists like Leavell for bands that are performing all over the world.
He said the industry has changed, since there has been no record label in Macon after Capricorn folded, which he feels has hurt the local music scene. Most album sales are now done through online marketing rather than producing CDs, so Hornsby said he has stayed away from the promotion part of the business to concentrate on producing.
Hornsby still sits in and performs live music, but said he has never regretted his choice of being a producer over being an artist.
“I enjoyed the playing part, but I didn’t enjoy the road part,” he said with a chuckle. “On the second night I’m on the road, I think to myself, ‘I don’t miss this at all.’’’
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.